If Your Property Was Built in the Early 1970s or Before, Your Plumbing Drainage System May Be Broken

In Florida, nearly two and a half million homes suffer from this problem and need urgent attention. Although cast iron pipes have been used in many different water systems throughout the United States in the last hundred-plus years, they deteriorate over time. In addition, they have a lifespan of only between 40 and 50 years. They can even develop problems at 25 years old because of the salt and moisture-rich environment.

Florida homes and commercial properties built before 1975 commonly used cast iron pipe for sewer systems. Many of these systems are in the process of failure, which can result in costly damage to the structures surrounding them. Timely cast iron sewer pipe replacement will prevent recurring problems, system failure, extensive damage, and toxic water contamination. Between 20% and 30% of all insurance claims are for water damage.

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover the Replacement of Leaky Pipes?

Most property insurance policies may cover replacing your leaking sewer or broken drain pipes. Still, replacing your cast iron pipe plumbing system can cost tens of thousands of dollars, so it is crucial to correctly present your cast iron pipe claim.

Replacement of failed pipes and repair to subsequent property damage typically falls to the homeowner. Sometimes, a homeowners association (HOA) may include certain related repairs in its fees; in this case, membership documents often outline liabilities. Property insurance companies have developed several complicated rules to deal with plumbing losses over the years. The result is often a mishmash of coverage provisions, limitations, and exclusions. Therefore, even if an insurance company says “No,” there is often a “Yes!” to be found if one knows where to look. The insurance company may send an inspector to your home to assess the damage. Remember that you can also call in your own experts for estimates, which may help if you need to take legal action.

It’s essential to file your claim as soon as the water damage becomes visible, which usually means within the first 72 hours. Otherwise, insurance companies might deny it because regular upkeep was not performed on the house. Another reason you might receive less than the cost of repairs is that the insurance company may only want to pay what is obviously damaged. But replacing only the cracked or burst pipe is like putting a finger in the dam. Other pipes will fail sooner or later, more than likely sooner if you’ve already seen significant issues.

How Much Does it Cost to Replace Cast Iron Pipes in Your Home?

Damage from leaking pipes can sometimes cost over $100,000.00 and create a total loss of your home.  The cost to replace a sewer line in Florida ranges from $3,000 to $37,000. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell without inspecting your home and knowing more about your sewer line. The longer the time needed to be replaced, the more expensive the job.

The factors that affect cast iron sewer pipe replacement cost include:

  • How much concrete floor must be removed and replaced to access the sewer line?
  • How many structures in the home are blocking access to the sewer line (i.e., kitchen islands, floor drains, etc.)?
  • The number of bathrooms in the home?

Cast Iron Pipe Lawsuits in Florida

Before 1975, the vast majority of Florida properties contained cast iron pipes. The material was initially used due to its longevity and durability but was susceptible to corrosion and deterioration. The introduction of PVC rendered cast iron obsolete, but the material remains in place in many Florida buildings.

Cast iron pipe systems throughout the state are actively corroding, but waterfront areas like Tampa are even more susceptible due to the salt and moisture-rich environment. This corrosion can release rust into the water, posing health risks for some individuals. Contaminated water can also be smelly or unpleasant tasting.

Corrosion also leads to weakened, leaky pipes, raising consumer water bills and slowly leaking sewage into personal and local water supplies. Left unmitigated, these damages can lead to total failure, resulting in significant sewage leaks and devastating water damage to structures, lawns, and other property. A sewer backup into the home can be detrimental to your property and health because you could be exposed to harsh chemical additives, bacteria, pathogens, and other harmful substances.

What are the Signs of Pipe Failure?

Corroded cast iron pipes can show several signs before failing completely.

  • Rust and other sediments from corrosion can result in slow drains.
  • The same buildup can cause water backups.
  • Leaky water pipes can damage the surrounding property.
  • Cracked and leaking sewer pipes can release unpleasant odors.
  • Leaks of all types can result in mold and insect infestations.

How Do I Know if My Pipes are Corroded or Failing?

If your cast iron sewer pipes are 25 Years old or older, they could fail anytime. Your drainage lines may already be damaged by tree root intrusion, cracks, channeling, or misaligned connections before you experience complete sewer line failure.

Without a visible water leak, the best way is to have a professional inspect the pipes with special cameras that can document the condition of your pipes. Wet and damaged baseboards behind sinks, a dishwasher, or a washing machine; warped wood floors; or loose floor tiles can be visually inspected for damage, but the problem pipes might be concealed behind walls or concrete. Plumbers have special diagnostic tools that they can use to inspect hard-to-access areas.

Suppose you have any doubt whatsoever regarding your cast iron pipes. In that case, you should contact a professional to fully evaluate your plumbing system for leaks, corrosion, or other issues that could cause a plumbing failure. Understand that it is not a question of “if” but a question of “when” your cast iron pipes will fail due to corrosion and rust.

A few telltale signs are:

  • Warped or separated wood floors
  • Tinted (raised) floor tiles
  • Broken or loose floor tiles
  • Look for stains behind the sink, bathtub, or toilet tank. Corroded galvanized pipes leave behind a rusty brown stain.

Repair or Replace Under Slab Cast Iron Pipes

So with cast iron sewer pipes, especially older pipes, it doesn’t make sense to locate or repair the leak or leaks. And once you find out you have a sewer leak, most likely, it’s been there for a significant amount of time. So it’s in your best interest to take action to prevent any possible or further structural damage to your house.

If you have a sewer leak or leaks under the concrete slab of your home’s foundation, it’s possible it could cause cracks in your walls or foundation, sloping floors, or more. You need to consider damage, not just to the pipes, but to your home.

Should I Speak With a Lawyer Before Contacting My Insurance Company?

Absolutely.  Your insurance company will try to squeeze the facts of your situation into one of many coverage exclusions. Absent help from a professional, you could jeopardize your chance of getting paid. Insurance companies often try to deny pipe damage claims based on carefully worded exclusions, so it is crucial to fully understand the nature of your claim before speaking with the insurance company.

Is There a Class Action Lawsuit for Cast Iron Pipes in Florida?

No. We do not believe so. Cast iron plumbing pipes do not last forever, so we do not believe there is a true class action lawsuit pending for cast iron pipes if they’ve lived up to their life expectancy – about 50 years. Your insurance company may still have to pay you for these pipes if they’ve caused damage to your property. Our firm will review your case and claim.

Why Should Homeowners Seek an Attorney?

Insurance companies have a history of refusing coverage to cast iron pipe failure victims, claiming systems have suffered normal wear and tear or reached the natural end of their lifespan. Even in accepted claims, companies can lowball the insured, leaving homeowners with costly excess repair fees or a legal struggle they are unprepared to undertake. Remember that you can also call in your own experts for estimates, which may help if you need to take legal action. Don’t let the insurance company take advantage of you.

  • Ordinary Wear and Tear
  • Failure of Proper Maintenance
  • The damage was not “Sudden and Accidental.”
  • Pre-Existing Damage
  • Leaks Lasting Longer than 14 Days
  • No Coverage for “Flood” Losses
  • No Coverage for “Plumbing” Issues Generally

Water Damage Claims Due to Pipe Leaks and Insurance Companies

Due to the amount of cast iron pipe leak claims in South Florida, insurance premiums have gotten out of control. The worst part is homeowners are forced to suffer in silence while their pipes continue to get worse due to no fault of their own. Bad pipes can also reduce home values. Home market values can be reduced by 20% or more due to cast iron plumbing systems that fail inspection.

Has Your Home Insurance Company Denied or Undervalued Your Property Damage Claim in Florida?

If your insurance company is dragging its feet regarding your property damage claim, you should speak with an experienced insurance claim lawyer as soon as possible. Please contact us online or call our Florida law office at 800.451.6786 to schedule your free consultation. We help Florida residents just like you fight the big insurance companies who fail to abide by their own policies. Remember, we work on a contingent basis, meaning you don't pay us anything until we win your case. 

K.C. Williams III
Managing Partner who has spent his entire career representing Florida insurance and personal injury claims.